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SCI-napse – The impact of a game-based approach to whole class teaching on pupils’ learnin: a cluster RCT with internal pilot.

We evaluated Sci-napse, a programme which aims to improve the science knowledge of Year 8 pupils through using quizzes in science lessons. We found little differences between the groups but difficulties delivering the intervention resulted in limited data for analysis.

Why did we do this research?

There is some evidence that the motivation associated with uncertain rewards could lead to improved outcomes in education settings. Studies in cognitive neuroscience have found that rewards can be associated with increased motivation, and that levels of dopamine in response to rewards can be positively linked to declarative memory due to the brain’s response to reward. This link makes clear the importance of research that further explores the links between cognitive neuroscience and education. We evaluated Sci-napse an intervention that focusses on a game-based approach to whole class teaching where the ‘game’ condition has an ‘uncertain reward’.

What did we do?

The evaluation was a three-armed cluster randomised controlled trial with allocation at the class level within 44 schools in England and Wales. A minimum of three Year 8 classes were

randomly allocated to one of the interventions (test-based or game-based groups) or to continue “business as usual” (control group) with normal teaching during science lessons in the academic year. The primary outcome was the GL Assessment Progress Test in Science 13 (PTS 13) completed on paper test booklets. An implementation and process evaluation collected data using classroom observations, teacher and pupil focus groups, interviews with the programme developers, and an online teacher survey.

What did we find?

Children in both test- and game-based Sci-napse classes made a small amount less progress than pupils in the comparison classes. The difference in scores was not “statistically significant”. Exploratory analysis found that the test-based Sci-napse classes that met the minimum requirements of the intervention made an average of three additional months progress. A small positive impact was found in the game-based classes that met the minimum requirements. The small number of pupils included in these analyses means that they should be treated with caution.

Teachers and pupils reported that Sci-napse was valuable as a revision tool but indicated that it was difficult to fit six questions into each lesson and that there were challenges with the technology – particularly around adding their own questions.


Education Endowment Fund. SCI_NAPSE: uncertain rewards. Website: 

Education Endowment Fund. SCI-NAPSE: uncertain rewards.  Executive Summary and Evaluation Report. May 2019. 

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Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK


The research was funded by Wellcome and the Education Endowment Foundation. The project was started in January 2016 and completed in January 2018.

Study Registration

The trial is registered with ISRCTN, reference number ISRCTN12740368.